Everyone has values. Whether they're clearly articulated or tacitly underlying every action we take, our lives are defined by them. Ministries have values too. Two years ago, I created a set of ministry values that have stuck with me and my ministry. Some of them have been refined or matured, but all remain the core DNA and ethos of the ministry I want to embody. This blog series will unpack each value in the following way: where the value comes from, why it's important, and how it's practiced in my ministry.
The second value: Being with and for others.
At the heart of ministry is the reality of the incarnation. This requires entering into the messiness of others' lives, suffering together and following Jesus together as place-sharers. This lifestyle is marked by encouragement, exhortation, gentleness, care, comfort, and love.
Where it comes from: Two books have been deeply influential for me regarding the discipleship of the emerging generation: Richard Dunn's Shaping the Spiritual Life of Students, and Andrew Root's Relationships Unfiltered.
Dunn offers a helpful concept called pacing-then-leading:
A good metaphor for discipleship is traveling on a hike together: the loving adult—who has traveled farther in their spiritual journey—steps back to pace alongside a student at their pace (with), experiencing the spiritual journey with them and listening for the Spirit’s guiding voice. Along the way, the adult leads the student towards Jesus, pointing out important spiritual vistas, watching for pitfalls, and helping the student stay on the right path (for). They walk towards Jesus together, requiring time and energy on the part of the adult to stay alongside the student and lead them closer to Christ.
Root uses the term place-sharer as one who has fully entered into the life of a student, choosing to be their advocate and guide, finding value in the relationship itself, rather than using the relationships as a tool for ministry programmatic purposes. Place-sharing requires embracing the whole person while also remaining a distinct person, having clear boundaries in relationship and the willingness to enter into the messiness of a human life beyond programmatic goals.
Why it's important: To be a disciple is never just a program, a curriculum, or a study--discipleship is a way of life. I would contend that following Jesus is the only real way to live; all other lifestyles are artificial and incomplete substitutes for the true life that Jesus offers. To follow Jesus is to live. He bids us to come and die, to find resurrected life in him. Thus, making disciples is inviting another to follow Jesus with me. It is inherently relational, reflecting the Trinitarian nature of the God we follow. Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus repeatedly points out that he does nothing without the authority and guidance of the Father. Upon his resurrection, Jesus breathes upon his disciples and gives them this charge: as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.
How it's practiced: I'm using the model of 12-3-1 discipleship in my ministry, with caring adults fostering relational connections with about twelve students (a small group), building relationships as a place-sharer for three students, and mentoring one student. All the students in our ministry should have at least one relationship with an adult, and multiple connections with adult leaders. The difference between a relationship and a connection is important, as I think we do volunteer leaders and students a disservice when we proclaim our ministry is "all about relationships" without defining and clarifying the differing levels of relational intimacy. If Jesus's chosen relational capacity is maxed out at twelve, we can't expect each of our volunteers to have uber-intimate relationships with more than that. Each relationship is (hopefully) characterized by the value expressed: encouragement, exhortation, gentleness, care, comfort, and love.
Questions to ask: How do we define discipleship in our ministry? What are the characteristics and goals of healthy relationships between adults and students? Do I lean towards pacing or leading in my discipleship relationships?